Thursday, March 12, 2009

Miranda Devine, this thing called a brain, the intertubes, Shazam, Google and Strange Yearnings for a non-existent past

Poor old Miranda the Devine. It's hard for a conservative when fresh original thinking is required, and all you can come up with is There was this this thing called a brain.

She seems to have got very excited about Shazam, a free application for the iPhone which allows you to discover the name of a song, get an album cover image, artist bio and You Tube link at the press of a button (never no mind that you could do this on a portable or a desktop for years - it's the mobility that seems to be wildly exciting).

It's a thrilling new tool, but then, as a member of the pre-Google generations, I also feel an odd sense of loss.

Actually Miranda if you've ever used the Googles, then you're a part of the googles generation. You might have grown up in the pre-googles times, but that doesn't make you a pre-googler if you googles. Still, let's nail down that odd sense of loss.

One of the little frustrations of life was that you couldn't always instantly gratify your desire for knowledge.

There were always nagging questions that required you to track your brain and which often went unanswered - such as the name of the song you just heard. Life's little mysteries kept you wondering and you simply had to learn to live with the suspense.

Cue strange weird Twilight Zone music. You're now traveling in another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. Miranda Devine's mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the imagination. That's a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the twilight zone!

The elusive song might keep playing in your head, tugging at dim memories in the back of your mind. If you puzzled hard enough you often could retrieve the information, by arduous squeezing or in a flash of inspiration, along with a whole lot of incidental memories of how you felt or who you were with when you first heard the melody.

Thank god Shazam puts a stop to this Proustian melancholy and reflection and brooding on times past. Poor thing, thinking is so hard, memory so arduous. And that's just for song titles ... as for E=MC something or other, it's just too hard and mysterious.

This enforced a kind of cognitive discipline, whipping your grey matter into some kind of organisational shape and forcing it to delive into its musty recesses where who-knows-what other treasures might lie. It felt like exercise for the brain, whereas waving your phone in the air and waiting for an iTunes ad does not.

Dearie me. No wonder she goes on to admit that this is pathetic Ludditery ... as my generation will be the last to remember life without a search engine to instantly satiate curiosity, we are the only ones left to contemplate a downside.

This seems mainly to consist of not needing to consult the imperfect memory banks of parent and teacher when Wikipedia and are at their fingertips. Poor Miranda seems to think these sources are infallible. That's the true stupidity. Too much faith in the miracle of the intertubes, which is in fact riddled with error. The ability to discriminate, to intelligently use, to intelligently deploy .... Ah Miranda perhaps you could explain this to your sons' generation so they don't fuck up regularly thinking the credits in Imdb are all true and correct, as are all the other details ...

But worse is to come, it seems the lads can look up school camp accommodation and resolve questions online, leaving little room to develop the bush lawyer skills of browbeating an opponent and prosecuting your case, so useful to siblings of the past.

Stop it Miranda, that explains way too much about you. Way too much information. Shutting down now Dave.

But wait there's more. Scrabble's no longer fun. Video games can be hacked with cheats. Kids irritated by poor game design and ham-fisted controls want to move on to the next level and finish the game faster. It's all getting faster, easier, leap frogging, catching planes when hiking is so much more fun, the journey not the destination, merry go round, whirlwind, stop the world I want to get off.

Perhaps sating curiosity too soon stops you developing the art of thinking and quiet introspection. "Racking your brain" is not a particularly pleasant experience, any more than is getting started on your gym routine. It requires effort and discipline, although the rewards soon follow.

Google may be the cranial equivalent of those motorised scooters ridden by obese Americans at Disneyland. Initially a prop for a lazy brain, it soon becomes essential.

Say what? Google is a motorised Disneyland scooter? What a stupendous flash of insight. And where have we arrived. Well all you youngsters are soft, unlike when I got up at 4 am to work in coalmine and racked my brain wondering why they had canary in mine with me. You youngsters need to tough it out. Get to the gym, show some effort and discipline, join the army.

Then a bit of modest science from professor Richard Restak quoting from his 2004 book, The New Brain, How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind, saying that the brain changes over time (no really!) and that in the next few decades it will change even more. (Well yes but tell me how and prove it, since this is saying the future will be different, without any empirical evidence as to how. Reminds me of my fervent conviction that apartment blocks would never fly, and then the bastards went and invented the 747).

Then it's back to the yearning nonsense, and the feeling of being excluded and hating younger people because they're cleverer and faster and speedier. They must miss out on something surely.

The internet has led to an extraordinary toppling of intellectual boundaries - a cognitive revolution akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But if we always are to sate our curiosity with an answer provided by someone else, where is the room for original thought? Rather than taxing our brain, we only plunger the store of what the world already knows.

There was a sort of naive self-belief in the old way of pondering questions, an enthusiasm for being the first to find an answer.

Now the expectation is that somewhere on the web someone has come up with the answer before you.

Sob. Moan. Sigh. The evil grinch on the internet has stolen all the original ideas. The googles has doomed original thinking. It should be hard, like it is for Miranda, to think. Tax the brain, ponder questions, finally work out what she should write about for a column and get from the supermarket, all in one go on the very same day (it's so hard, remembering things and working out what it all means. Flash idea: why don't we put supermarket lists on the intertubes? What, they've done it already? Damn, another original idea bites the dust).

Yep, it must be hard for Miranda the Devine to struggle with the concept of original thinking.

Believing that those three-trillion URLs that Google has in its index are the infinite sum of answers in the world, might inhibit us from creating the answer from thin air.

Only she could believe that Google, as constituted as a guide to the internet, is the infinite sum of answers in the world (for a start, while extensive and unknowable by any single person, they are by definition finite in number). And as for the notion that even an Einstein created his answers from thin air, rather than standing on the shoulders of those scientists who'd come before him ... or Haydn-admiring Beethoven ... or ... Oh what's the use.

In any case, the Devine is complicated in her thinking, she immediately undercuts this argument:

A Google executive, Marissa Mayer, has said that the internet's search capacity is in its infancy.

Uh huh, so the infinite sum of answers, and the links thereto, are going to be infinitely more infinite. Well that's a definitely, somewhat uniquely, excitingly unique idea.

There is so much more to come, to plug up the holes in our brains.

Sorry Miranda, some brains are so porous, so full of polycarbonate matter, that they can never be filled.

But somewhere in those holes may be out sense of self, room for the human mind's unique ability to float between thoughts and generate fresh ideas, the very ideas that created the miracles of Google and Shazam in the first place.

True, somewhere in those holes, you might find the nonsense for a newspaper column, but let's not exaggerate and call this the ability to float between thoughts and generating fresh ideas, when neither are actually visible in the column in question. And the chance of the Devine (or me) creating miracles like Google and Shazam are nil. But perhaps that's perhaps I've been in the company of genuinely creative people creating genuinely exciting ideas, scientific as well as aesthetic, and the process looked utterly unlike a dribbling conservative columnist yearning for some non-existent thought process in the dim distant past while trying to whip a frothy, foamy anxiety about a technology of the present and the future (remind me again Miranda how comics would reduce young people to gibbering loons?)

The world is always full of creative exciting people with fresh ideas, but creating a shibboleth out of the internet is not part of the process. Whenever you blather hot air, you fog up the view of the future. I think we can now definitively define the Miranda Devine Law. When Devine wants to debunk new tools, new technologies and new ideas, then the more she writes, the more the amount of actual meaningful content approaches zero.

So since she's into yearning and Wordsworthian moments of time and Proustian memories of moments lost, instead of all that yukky intertubes stuff, let's celebrate with Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc:

Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the bedding
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn’t got a penny,
And who weren’t paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in—
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar;
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground,
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far waterfall like doom.

Damn, and I got that off the intertubes in a flash. Damn, too easy. No need for me to write a poem like Hilaire Belloc. Heck no, I'll just read that original thinker Miranda Devine explaining how original thinking involves hard yakka, hard graft, deep pondering, cosmic yearning for the joys of growing up in the nineteen fifties. Must leave room now, brain slowing, Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do, all going very dark, Dave, help me now Dave ...


Harry Bergeron said...

I suggest that you give yourself a nick-name, and stop abusing the name of the writer and genuine wit, Dorothy Parker.

If you can't think of one yourself, there are plenty of people out there who will do it for you.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I'm torn between wasting my time constructing a comment to you and helping you with a nickname, but here you are - 'AssHat' - it seems more 'fitting'.